With her tremendous passion and unstoppable drive, 19-year-old JUJ is proof of the power of believing in yourself against all fear and doubt. At age 17, the Philadelphia-bred singer/songwriter dropped out of high school and moved to L.A. on her own, despite having no family members or friends in town. Just as she’d started to establish herself in the L.A. music scene, an untreated case of Lyme disease forced her to move back home and put her dreams on hold. Shaken up but still determined, JUJ returned to L.A. as soon as she’d recovered, pushing forward with her music and quickly setting to work on her debut EP: an instantly addictive selection of songs announcing her as a bold new voice of empowerment for her generation and beyond.
“In my town everyone tends to follow one path, so when you decide to go off and do something different, you get a lot of people telling you how it’s never going to work,” says JUJ, who recently enlisted Chicago rapper Vic Mensa for an updated version of “Mood.” “That’s a big part of why it was so frustrating when I got sick: I didn’t want to prove those people right by going back home just when things had started to happen for me.”
One of the most uplifting and urgent tracks on JUJ, It’s U, “Black Mirrors” delivers a gang-vocal-driven anthem of triumph for all her fellow dreamers (sample lyric: “Just ’cause we’re young don’t mean we can’t rule the world”). And on “Hollywood,” JUJ turns unforgettably tender, offering a candid confession of disillusionment. “‘Hollywood’ talks about when I got sick and everything came crashing down on me, and I had a moment of feeling like maybe everyone was right about what would happen in L.A.,” she explains. Revealing her utter irrepressibility, the string-laced piano ballad eventually shifts into a song of hope, with JUJ’s vocals reaching a breathtaking intensity.
JUJ partly attributes her strength and determination to her mother, a former dancer who immigrated from Brazil to the U.S. at age 18. “She grew up so poor and moved here with $100 in her pocket, without really speaking any English at all,” says JUJ. “Knowing that she was able to do that was a big inspiration for me when I started to think about moving to L.A. on my own.” Raised on the Brazilian music her mom played at home, JUJ grew up singing in the church choir and took up piano at age 7. Also an accomplished theater actor, she developed her stunning vocal range in part by performing at her hometown’s famed Walnut Street Theatre, and at age 13 won a major singing competition at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem.
By the time she started high school JUJ had begun writing her own songs, as well as drawing attention online with her YouTube covers of everything from “House of the Rising Sun” to Amy Winehouse’s rendition of “Valerie.” Songwriting soon became a crucial emotional outlet for JUJ.
In the making of JUJ, It’s U, JUJ brought that raw honesty to each track, all while introducing so many eclectic elements into her songs: the heavy beats of hip-hop, detailed storytelling of country, and epic harmonies of gospel music (achieved by gathering a group of her friends to sing background vocals all throughout the EP). At the same time, she purposely avoided writing songs about love and relationships, as a way to challenge herself and show the sheer depth of her artistry. “I didn’t want to just put out a bunch of songs about some ex-boyfriend—I have so much more of a story to tell, and I wanted to give people something unexpected,” she says.
With its title nodding to the Brazilian martial art of jiu-jitsu, JUJ’s debut unfolds with a certain fighting spirit, even in its most vulnerable moments—a dynamic that she hopes might ultimately inspire others to fight for their own passion. “With this body of work I just wanted to be completely real about everything I’ve gone through and let everyone know that I have a lot of doubts too, but I’ve never let them hold me back,” says JUJ. “I want people to come away feeling stronger and more empowered to do whatever they want with their lives, and to also feel a real sense of unity—like, ‘Even if it feels that way sometimes, you’re not in this alone. We can all do this together.’”